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Members Leave RSOS Ready to Organize

"I'm tired of playing defense. It's time we played some offense!" VEA President Jim Livingston told attendees at the 2017 Reggie Smith Organizing School this week. "The time for us to be silent and demure has passed.”

About 200 fired-up VEA members took Livingston’s words to heart, investing three days in learning the nuts-and-bolts of organizing, mobilizing, making a difference in political contests, and reaching out to new educators. They learned the importance of collective action and solidarity, and better ways to make concrete progress in their schools and communities. They strategized how they could organize their members around instructional issues.

There was also a conference track on promoting inclusive policies for LGBTQ students and school employees, which focused on creating the kinds of school environments in which all students and educators can thrive. That track featured a panel discussion with Ted Lewis, the executive director of Side By Side, a Richmond-based organization supporting LGBTQ youth, and two LGBTQ students.

During the final session Friday, Sen. Jennifer McClellan was presented the 2017 VEA Legislative Champion Award, and Ralph Northam, VEA’s recommended candidate for Governor, pledge to involve educators and VEA in developing his plans for public education. “I want to hear from you,” he said. “Together, let’s do what’s best for children and for public schools.”

Also on Friday, Hunter Astrop, a graduate of Greensville County High School, received a $500 Beblon G. Parks Scholarship. He intends to enroll at Bethune-Cookman University in Daytona Beach, FL. The award, named after the longtime VEA leader and staff member, is given to a high school senior intending to major in education.

Members left feeling better ready to tackle the thorny issues faced by public schools. "It's refreshing to come together with other folks," said Carmen Sitton of the Amherst Education Association. "We shared ideas and we discovered that we're not the only ones with these challenges to overcome. I don't feel 'siloed' anymore."

Afreen Gootee, past president of the Hanover Education Association, brought along her replacement. "It was a great chance for him to expand his leadership skills and extend his support network," she said, "and that's definitely going to make our local stronger."

Check our Flickr page for event photos.


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